by Adam Hamilton Harper One.
San Francisco, Calif. 324 pages
For as long as I can remember, my father has taken issue with the Bible. For him, reconciling the violence depicted in books like Joshua and Judges with Jesus’ message in the Gospels is impossible. Furthermore, being a strong supporter of gay and lesbian rights, the seemingly anti-gay rhetoric of the Bible has always been troublesome for him. Adam Hamilton’s book is written for people like my father. In writing this accessible volume, Hamilton, a United Methodist pastor in Kansas, has presented a mainline approach to Scripture that both assimilates the findings of historical-critical research from the past couple hundred of years and upholds the Bible’s inspired status. Hamilton spends the first half of the book recounting the historical roots of the Bible, explaining what type of book the Bible is and establishing what is meant by “inspiration.” He examines the roots of the doctrine of inspiration, its historical development and the implications of the doctrine.
To be fair, Hamilton’s approach to the doctrine of inspiration will not put conservatives at ease. Hamilton repeatedly takes aim at the doctrine of “plenary, verbal inspiration,” while placing the level of inspiration behind the Bible on the same par as the inspiration all believers, of any era, can experience from God. What sets the Bible apart from current inspired works then? According to Hamilton, what primarily gives the Bible its authoritative status is its authors’ proximity to the miracles, speeches and events described in its pages. Because the authors of the Bible were eyewitnesses (or spoke with eyewitnesses) to the events described therein, the Bible can claim authority. Therefore, it is not a higher degree of inspiration, but the nearness to the events described that marks the Bible as authoritative.
The second half of the book is spent on various controversial issues like violence and cosmology. With each topic, Hamilton states his own views, explaining how his approach to inspiration influences the concrete applications of a biblical worldview on the issue at hand. Of particular interest are Hamilton’s views on homosexuality. Hamilton briefly chronicles his own change of mind on the issue, from a pastor who would lovingly exhort gay and lesbian Christians to live in celibacy, to his current position. Hamilton explains why he is now supportive of loving, monogamous, life-long gay and lesbian relationships. While those who disagree with Hamilton on this issue will likely not be persuaded by this chapter, those wavering and wondering if they have to choose between the Bible and their gay and lesbian friends (or their own sexuality) will walk away with at least one pastor’s belief that the question assumes a false dichotomy.
Again, there is little in this book to convince conservatives of Hamilton’s views. However, the book clearly wasn’t written for them. It was written for people like my dad — those unsure of the Bible’s message. And, as such, it is a helpful tool that could help begin many necessary and good conversations about the Bible.
JONATHAN SAUR is a candidate for ministry in Los Ranchos Presbytery and serves as the director of youth ministries at Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo, California.