Thursday, September 27, 2007
Following the Bible Literally
A new book is coming out on October 9th, The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs. The subtitle is "One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible", and it appears that is exactly what it is about.


This is what Publishers Weekly said about it:
What would it require for a person to live all the commandments of the Bible for an entire year? That is the question that animates this hilarious, quixotic, thought-provoking memoir from Jacobs… He didn’t just keep the Bible’s better-known moral laws (being honest, tithing to charity and trying to curb his lust), but also the obscure and unfathomable ones: not mixing wool with linen in his clothing; calling the days of the week by their ordinal numbers to avoid voicing the names of pagan gods; trying his hand at a 10-string harp; growing a ZZ Top beard; eating crickets; and paying the babysitter in cash at the end of each work day. (He considered some rules, such as killing magicians, too legally questionable to uphold.)

Of course, most Christians will respond by saying that we are not required to follow the Old Testament laws anymore. Well, except for the Ten Commandments, and the laws about sex (and especially homosexuality), and tatoos, and... well, whichever OT verses we think will help support our contemporary Christian subcultural taboos.

The interesting thing about this experiment is that it may help demonstrate just how absurd it is to say that the Bible is a book of universal moral commands for all time without any consideration for historical or cultural context. In my opinion, applying the wisdom of scripture to our own situation must always be more complex than that, and is best done with the help of the Holy Spirit to provide discernment. At any rate, the next time someone wants to tell you to just take every bit of the Bible literally and do exactly what it says, you can point to this book and say, "Oh, like that guy?" Hey, if he can do it, why shouldn't we, right? No more excuses.

BTW, if you want to read more about the project, Jacobs did a recent Newsweek interview. I was glad to see that he did gain some lasting spiritual insights from the experience. For instance:

What, if any, rules are you still following?

I’m not Gandhi or Angelina Jolie, but I made some strides. The experience changed me in big ways and small ways. There’s a lot about gratefulness in the Bible, and I would say I’m more thankful. I focus on the hundred little things that go right in a day, instead of the three or four things that go wrong. And I love the Sabbath. There’s something I really like about a forced day of rest. Also, during the experiment I wore a lot of white clothes, because Ecclesiastes says let your garments always be white, and I loved it, so I look like Tom Wolfe now. Wearing white just made me happier. I couldn’t be in a bad mood walking down the street looking like I was about to play in the semifinals at Wimbledon. One thing I learned is that the outside affects the inside, your behavior shapes your thoughts. I also really liked what one of my spiritual advisers said, which was that you can view life as a series of rights and entitlements, or a series of responsibilities. I like seeing my life as a series of responsibilities. It’s sort of, "Ask not what the world can do for you, ask what you can do for the world."

via Friendly Atheist
 
posted by Mike Clawson at 11:16 AM | Permalink |


10 Comments:


At 9/27/2007 12:31:00 PM, Blogger jhimm

Of course, most Christians will respond by saying that we are not required to follow the Old Testament laws anymore. Well, except for the Ten Commandments, and the laws about sex (and especially homosexuality), and tatoos, and... well, whichever OT verses we think will help support our contemporary Christian subcultural taboos.

now where have i heard that recently...

:)

 

At 9/27/2007 12:50:00 PM, Anonymous jazzact13

So, does the book say whether he got himself circumcised, or not?

 

At 9/27/2007 01:49:00 PM, Blogger Dylan

It may not be a representative summary but the quoted selection regarding what Jacobs got out of the experience is telling in what it leaves unsaid. There is no mention of God whatsoever, let alone Jesus Christ.

Appropriately, then, there is no indication of having drawn "closer" to God, having become more enraptured with the Savior, or having learned to more closely walk in step with the Spirit. He does not indicate that God worked in him for sanctification or that his heart was burdened the the passions of God.

There is also no mention of one of the main points of the Old Testament regulations: that they are so overwhelming as to be "undoable" and point to the need for a Savior!

His summary is a secular and man-centered as could be!

 

At 9/27/2007 02:04:00 PM, Blogger jhimm

Dylan,
I kind of figured that was the whole point. When we focus too much on the do's and don'ts, we forget that our calling is not to the law but to follow Jesus' Way!

 

At 9/27/2007 05:08:00 PM, Blogger Dylan

Jhimm,

What part of what was written indicated that Jesus was the main point? Jacobs (and obviously Mike) seemed to probably get that life is about more than rules. But nothing he said explicitly pointed to the correct purpose nor did his statements require any such pointing or searching.

For that matter, Mike did go that direction in his response, though to be fair, that wasn't the purpose of his sharing Jacob's experiment.

I fail to see how the point was made.

 

At 9/28/2007 12:28:00 AM, Blogger Steven Carr

Mike recommends that the Holy Spirit guides people.

I think it is fair to say that people who take the Bible literally are not guided by the Holy Spirit in the way that Mike is.

Pity for them, but that's life.

 

At 9/28/2007 12:42:00 AM, Blogger Steven Carr

'There is also no mention of one of the main points of the Old Testament regulations: that they are undoable'

Quite right.

Jesus simplified them into 'Be perfect' (Matthew 5:48)

No more hundreds of silly man-made rules for him.

 

At 9/28/2007 10:01:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Dylan, I'm not sure what your point is. No, Jacobs didn't become a Christian through this experiment. I don't think that was the point of doing it. Does that make the book less interesting or less worth reading for you?

Maybe we should ask ourselves why he wasn't changed in those ways. If the Bible has all the magical power to transform lives that some evangelicals want to attribute to it, perhaps we should ask why it failed in this case. How can someone devote a whole year to studying and living the Bible and yet not be changed in the ways that you think are most important and most central to the message of the Bible?

 

At 9/28/2007 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Dylan

Steven,

You wrote, in the context of Old Testament regulations, "Jesus simplified them into 'Be perfect' (Matthew 5:48)

No more hundreds of silly man-made rules for him."

Am I reading you correctly to be saying that OT regulations are "silly man-made rules"?!

--------------------

Mike,
I'll try to respond piece by piece.

"No, Jacobs didn't become a Christian through this experiment. I don't think that was the point of doing it. Does that make the book less interesting or less worth reading for you?"

In many ways, yes, the fact that Jacobs failed to properly understand the purpose and thrust of the OT and then apply it to his life makes it less interesting. I freely admit that there are bound to be some nuggets of truth and insight in his work, as would be true of just about any book, but overall, it loses value in my eyes.

Why would I want to be influenced in my relationship with God by someone who doesn't have one? Why would I want to better understand the Bible from someone who doesn't understand it?

"Maybe we should ask ourselves why he wasn't changed in those ways. If the Bible has all the magical power to transform lives that some evangelicals want to attribute to it, perhaps we should ask why it failed in this case. How can someone devote a whole year to studying and living the Bible and yet not be changed in the ways that you think are most important and most central to the message of the Bible?"

First, I think you've set up a false position here. I don't believe that the bible has "magical power to transform lives." That sounds very much like a caricature of those who...are more conservative than yourself? See the bible as having a more central role in the Christian life? Other?

Second, how can Jacobs, or anyone for that matter, spend a year focusing on the OT and not get it? Well, isn't that the story of the nation of Israel? How did they not get it when they did the whole thing (meaning including sacrifices, death penalties, etc. instead of just the parts legally allowed in the US)?

[A side note: what does Scripture say about attempting to obey the law but breaking even one part of it--say skipping the parts that Jacobs skipped? I'd suggest that Jacobs attempt to selectively live the OT rules isn't really an attempt to obey them at all, in God's sight.]

The Scriptural answer is that they had hearts of stone that were in rebellion against God and could not be overcome without the initiative and work of God. Note that such a statement does not negate their personal responsibility or willing rejection of the truth (a la Romans 1).

"Dylan, I'm not sure what your point is."

My point is that Jacobs falls into the same pitfall that Israel did through their recorded history in Scripture. They focused on the rules and the outward forms and neglected to allow God to be their King and their Savior. As such, if anything is to be gotten from Jacob's experiment, it is the need to move from focus on outward obedience from our own strength and toward inward obedience (resulting also in outward obedience) that is the work of the Spirit as we trust Jesus Christ by faith.

It seems to me that since Jacob's experiment in no way references faith in Christ, the only lessons to be learned from him are negative and warning.

 

At 10/03/2007 01:59:00 PM, Blogger jhimm

Dylan,

i think you have completely failed to understand the point of what this man did for a year, and this is a significant part of why you find the whole thing uninteresting, irrelevant and without value to your life or your understanding of your relationship to either Scripture or G-d.

no, the author is not a believer. no, the author did not, through the course of this performance art action (which is essentially what it is), come into a relationship with G-d through his new understanding of the message of the Bible. no, this book does not lay out a model for us to follow to come into a deeper faith.

that wasn't the point. the point was to demonstrate a few simple ideas that many actual believers fail to understand. i do not believe this was the author's intent, but a very nice side effect, is that if read by believers, we may learn something about our own myopic and overly literal, legalistic interpretations of the Bible.

- it is impossible to follow every "rule" in the Bible. largely because several of them are contradictory, especially between the old and new testaments.

- a life following the letter of the law is not necessarily the life of a "good" man, but only the life of a weird man.

- a life which treats the Bible as a rulebook and as a literal reference manual for life is a life which fails to truly understand the point of Scripture or to truly enter into a relationship with G-d.

- the only reason the NT has fewer rules than the OT is because it is physically shorter. there seems to be this myth even withing Christianity that the OT is the "rules" part of the Bible and the NT is the "love" part of the Bible.

is it not possible to read this book and come away with a deeper understanding of the importance of not getting caught up in an overly legalistic, literalistic, rationalistic approach to both G-d and the Scriptures in spite of the fact that the author failed to get the point through his own deconstruction?

is not the very meaning of Paul's insistence that we see through a glass darkly that none of us has ownership of truth and that together we may be able to combine our flawed and incomplete visions into something more perfect?

 

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