Eric A. Seibert
Westminster John Knox Press, 165 pages | Publishing November 7, 2023
Redeeming Violent Verses: A Guide for Using Troublesome Texts in Church and Ministry tackles an age-old challenge: how should the church address violence in Scripture? Eric Seibert offers a clear and actionable introduction to anyone who works or volunteers in church and seeks to redeem those scriptural passages that are harder to wrestle with than others. Seibert, a professor of Old Testament, focuses on the Hebrew Bible, yet his seven ways to constructively use violent biblical texts can be applied to the entire Bible. Approaches such as “to develop compassion for victims of violence” or “to raise awareness of violence and act to stop it” offer lenses through which terrifying texts can be used in a productive way, rather than ignored.
Seibert uses the metaphor of Jacob wrestling with the angel, fighting until a blessing is given, as a metaphor for how to approach Scripture — we’re to wrestle, sweat and get uncomfortable until we receive the blessing that the text provides. Seibert argues that “God is not violent because God is love.” Through this lens of love, we’re challenged to look at Scripture that is often watered down if not completely ignored in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and in Christian culture. Seibert offers a variety of perspectives on how and where historically problematic texts can be used in worship and education.
I most appreciated the robust practicality of Redeeming Violent Verses. Seibert offers sample verses to exegete, suggestions for how a preacher or teacher could use them, questions to consider, cultural implications of the original texts and the modern day, and reminders for how to communicate trigger warnings — all while advocating for reasonable goals the reader can set for themselves to share what might be a different perspective on the story. Seibert’s approach to the Bible is radically inclusive, loving and wholly biblical. By advocating for biblical literacy of the whole Bible, Seibert offers a path toward healing wounds found in the death and destruction of long-ignored Scripture. In light of the recent divisiveness of Judges 19 as a selection for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ordination exams, Redeeming Violent Verses bridges the need to talk about harm and terror in the Bible, while acknowledging and recommending when and where these lessons and conversations should be held.
Seibert writes about how these violent texts should or should not be used with a variety of age groups, advocating for age-appropriate instruction and honesty when working with children and teens. For example, Seibert uses the dark story of Daniel in the lions’ den to demonstrate the possibilities; as Daniel’s accusers and their families are fed to the lions in a violent display of retribution, Siebert invites readers to consider what it would look like to bring peace and nonviolent resolution into the text. Through sample calls to worship, prayers and sermon outlines, I look forward to using this book as I work to redeem the Bible in my own ministry.
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