Kindle Edition, 256 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2014
Read: January 3, 2015
Struggling with the idea that there’s “explicit content” in the Bible (sex, violence, and the like) and yet Christian sermons, education, and literature tends to veer towards the G-rated (unless someone’s trying to make a name for himself for being “edgy”), Smith set out to survey the texts that cover those topics to see if he could help Christians be able to talk the way the Bible does about the topics. He says he soon learned that
I might amass 40 or 50 texts. Yeah, right. After an entire summer of work and study, I had collected not a few dozen but rather several hundred such passages—giving me plenty of work to do and also yielding a basic thesis: there’s a lot of sex and violence in the Bible.
Armed with these passages, his goal is to
unpack, clarify, and explain some of these graphic passages, many of which have been obscured by idiom, figurative language, and overly genteel English translations—not to mention the vast geographical and chronological distance between the culture in which the Bible was originally written and that of our own time.
Smith endeavors to present this survey without personal commentary or opinion, only to explain what the texts say, while running “the risk of presenting what is essentially a list—and a very long list at that.” He does that pretty well, the book moves smoothly from one topic to the next (on the whole). Part 1 covers “Sex”, with chapters devoted to aphrodisiacs, nudity, adultery, and more. Violence is the focus of Part 2, beatings, dismemberment, cannibalism, gore, and more. In Part 3, he gets a little less focuses and tries to discuss everything else that might have an “ick” factor while not fitting into the other categories — bodily fluids, vomit, corpses.
Early on, the chapters endeavor to connect their subject with the overall narrative of the Bible or to redemptive themes, but he abandons that to stick with the explanation. This is the major weakness of the book, and almost ruined the experience for me. But his conclusion rescues the book from this shortcoming, tying it all together and showing the reader how they can use what he’s presented, how the Bible maintains a balance “of frankness and restraint” in its approach to sex and violence, and how we should, too. In case anyone reads the book after reading this post, I want to stress the importance of his concluding chapter — without it, this book would be an worthless read and only a decent — and very specific — reference book, 2-Stars in my mind. What he does in the concluding chapter really does save the book and gets it the 3rd star.
Also, the book he mentions in that conclusion that he’s writing? I’m buying that as soon as it’s in print, assuming that happens.
Ultimately, the “very long list” aspect of this can numb the mind and help the eyes glaze over. The best use of this book is after reading it to have it handy as a reference. But he does achieve his goals in a way that honors the text without pandering to the lowest common denominator and while educating. Not the easiest needle to thread.