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We should be preaching a deeper knowledge of the Bible


Question & Answer

Q: By John
In my studies of the ancient Israelites, I am learning that the Israelites were very possibly Canaanites broken away from the various sites of Canaanite cities and that the DNA test of Canaanites skeletons reveals that the Israelites did not kill off the Canaanites but rather the Canaanites moved to Lebanon. The relationship of these two groups were much the same in language and even worshipping practices. The movement to a single God “Yahweh” only took place after the Babylon exile ended – not with Moses. The question I would like to ask is why this information isn’t known to the majority of Christians?

A: By Dr. Carl Krieg

Dear John,

Thank you for your question, for it is one that speaks directly to the survival of the church. I have been asking this very same question for a very long time, and refer you to an article I wrote for, For Mainline Christian Clergy. I have read that the original Israelites were Canaanite hill people who moved down onto the fertile plains, but never about the DNA study. So thank you for that! We all need to keep on learning, and sharing that knowledge.

The problem of ignorance in the modern church, and I use that word simply to mean without knowledge, began with the Enlightenment. There were those who wanted to apply the new tools of literary criticism to the Bible, and those who believed that such study would be sacrilegious. The latter, of course, are the fundamentalists who continue even today to refuse scholarly critique and who read the Bible literally. But what of the leadership in the mainline Protestant denominations? I have met so many pastors and preachers who speak as though biblical scholarship did not exist. I suspect that the cause of that neglect is the fear of offending the more conservative members of the congregation, who could leave and take their money with them. That fear creates an atmosphere that approaches fundamentalism even in liberal churches. The denominations will fight for justice and gay rights, but are shy about biblical critique. Consequently, the fundamentalist evangelicals have been able to define for the public what it means to be a “Christian”. As a result, society at large increasingly sees all church-goers as fundamentalists and disparages them as less than rational. It also makes it difficult for more open-minded folks in the pews to feel at ease, both in the church and on the street. It’s gotten to the point where one is almost embarrassed to admit that one goes to church on Sunday morning.

Beside the alienation of secular culture and the failure to recognize the progressives in the congregations, the promulgation of non-critical “biblical” theology is confusing and detrimental to the faith formation of everyone. A few examples. You mention Moses. Must we believe that Israelites were slaves in Egypt? That God parted the Red Sea for them to escape? That Moses ever existed? That he really received all those laws from God while in the desert? Is that what our faith is all about?

Most people suffer some tragedy in life, and some look to Job for an answer. How many are aware that the prologue and epilogue, wherein the patient Job is rewarded tenfold for his faith, is an addition that is separate and distinct from the main body of the poem, wherein Job is not patient and angrily shakes his fist at God. If I am suffering and angry, I might find it comforting to know that Job also was angry.

I don’t know how many Pentecost services I have attended where the preacher spoke of the great miracle of the many tongues and how everyone heard the story in their own language. As if that really happened! Would it not be more helpful to recognize and relish the small moments of spiritual community that we experience every day?

The list goes on, but the point is made. A deeper knowledge of the biblical material would enlighten folks in the pews, would make the gospel story much more understandable to the general public, and would shed light on the travails of life. I hate to say this, but I think that many clergy are doing a disservice to a lot of people.

~ Dr. Carl Krieg

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Dr. Carl Krieg received his BA from Dartmouth College, MDiv from Union Theological Seminary in NYC and PhD from the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the author of What to Believe? the Questions of Christian Faith and The Void and the Vision. As professor and pastor, Dr. Krieg has taught innumerable classes and led many discussion groups. He lives with his wife Margaret in Norwich, VT.

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