A Positive Reading of the New Testament

[This post is adapted from a sermon preached at Shalom Mennonite Congregation, the fifth in a series on salvation and human flourishing. Here’s a link to the fourth in the series, “A Positive Reading of the Old Testament.”

Ted Grimsrud—October 8, 2017 [Luke 7]

There are some standard assumptions that Christians tend to have about the Bible—the Old Testament is old, outdated, primitive, problematic, violent and judgmental. And the New Testament is new, fresh, merciful, useful, peaceable and about forgiveness.

Well, I have spent a lot of time over many years trying—in sermons, classes, discussions, and writings—to show that the Old Testament is actually pretty good, that it’s an asset for faith and a guide for our quest for peace and justice in our hurting world. I know I have not persuaded everyone of this, but I’ll keep trying, though not this morning.

The New Testament’s dark side

The other side of the coin, though, is that the New Testament itself also has a dark side. It’s much shorter and not nearly as detailed in its accounts of political struggles. It covers just a short bit of time, unlike the hundreds of years the Old Testament has to do with. So the dark elements are perhaps a bit more subtle.

But we have things such as Jesus’s sharp, dare I say, even violent, dressing down of the Pharisees: “You blind guides, you white-washed tombs, you children of hell, you brood of vipers!” And his threats about God sending people to hell: “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

And then there are the writings of Paul and of the book of Revelation. It is kind of uncanny that three times, just in the past couple of weeks, I have kind of randomly gotten into fairly intense arguments with friends–good, pious Mennonites—about whether Paul is an asset or a liability for Christian faith. I defend Paul, but apparently not very persuasively for my friends. And those of you who sat through what probably seemed like interminable sermons that I preached on Revelation here several years ago know that I go against the stream and present Revelation as a book of peace, not a book of judgment and violence. But the New Testament does present challenges.

One other difficult New Testament text is the story in the book of Acts about the early Christian married couple, Ananias and Sapphira. They are struck dead when they are caught lying and not giving the church the full price of some property they sold. Continue reading “A Positive Reading of the New Testament”

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