cover image Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals

Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals

John A. Buehrens / Author Beacon Press (MA) $24 (224p) ISBN 97

According to this engaging but not always convincing liberal gloss on the Good Book, biblical literalism is an idolatrous departure from the Bible's""enduring but non-literal wisdom,"" which progressives can reclaim through informed interpretations of biblical metaphor and symbolism. Drawing on historical and contemporary Bible scholarship, Buehrens, a Unitarian minister and co-author of A Chosen Faith, gives an illuminating if brief rundown of each book in the Bible, one informed by feminist, literary and lefty political critiques. The results are mixed. Themes of liberation and social justice emerge in the Exodus narrative, the Prophetic books and the Gospels. But on fundamentalist hot-button issues like homosexuality and women's rights, the Bible's clear statements defy interpretive rehabilitation. Faced with outright prohibition on a man""lying with a man as with a woman,"" Buehrens suggests that""the inner spirit of what is intended"" there might be different. He champions""reading against the grain"": with that interpretive strategy, the New Testament's urging of submissiveness on wives and servants, for example, attests to husbands' and masters' anxiety over the egalitarianism of Church congregations. And his anti-literalist, Bible-as-metaphor approach sometimes throws the religion out with the bathwater, as when nonbelievers are reassured that stories of miracles and resurrections can also be seen as metaphorical rather than actual events. Unfortunately, Buehrens's laudable attempt at""reading the Bible to overcome oppression"" drains away much substantive content.