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How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis Through Revelation

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  316 ratings  ·  49 reviews
The acclaimed Bible scholar and author of The Historical Jesus and God & Empire—“the greatest New Testament scholar of our generation” (John Shelby Spong) —grapples with Scripture’s two conflicting visions of Jesus and God, one of a loving God, and one of a vengeful God, and explains how Christians can better understand these passages in a way that enriches their faith.

Hardcover, 263 pages
Published March 3rd 2015 by HarperOne
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Jan 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Justice v Judgement

I am a Christian; however, I have struggled most of my adult life with the dichotomy of God as described in the Bible. On the one hand we have the loving creator God who gave us everything and whose son preached love and nonviolence. On the other hand we have the avenging God of the flood, periodic wrath against his people, and ultimately the sword wielding Jesus of death in Revelation. "Put bluntly, the nonviolent Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount seemed annulled and dismissed
James (JD) Dittes
Jun 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Hands down the most provocative title of a book that I'll read this year, Crossan here is focused on the Bible's bi-polar approach toward violence. Two singular examples anchor his argument.

First, there is the example of Jesus whose "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem four days before his crucifixion featured him riding a peace donkey, winking at the traditions of the conquering hero. Yet in the Book of Revelation, Jesus appears again riding a white horse. Are the writers here describing the same g
Orville Jenkins
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Crossan performs his expected thorough and clear, readable analysis of the streams of thought that seem to portray two different portraits of God in the collection of documents over several centuries that now constitute what we call the Bible. Crossan's book was originally published in 1989 and may be available only from used book vendors. I bought it through Amazon.

God's Violence vs God's Justice
The author focuses on the problem of God's violence and conflicts in different portraits of God perc
Adam Ross
Mar 13, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: theology
Crossan is one of those scholars who is unspeakably brilliant and endlessly frustrating in equal measure. This book ends up being quite typical in that respect. His thesis is that Jesus is the measure of the Bible; it is Jesus that shows us what is accurate and inaccurate everywhere else, and in that thesis he and I are in agreement. And in fact the first two-thirds of the book, largely concerned with the Old Testament, is full of profound insights.

But it is when we come to Jesus and Paul that
My "zero stars" rating isn't an indication that I thought this was a poorly written book. In fact, just the opposite. This was a highly engaging book and Crossan has an excellent writing style. The contents are thought provoking, and for some perhaps life changing. The problem is, I'm not convinced by Crossan's arguments. But the even greater problem is that I wish I was, which makes it very difficult to rate the book.

The insurmountable issue for me is that Crossan bases his thesis on the idea o
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a challenging book to complete, and I might have given up had it not been for my target! It was however worth the effort and made me think carefully about the Bible and the historical Jesus within. When read with other works from Crossan and Sheehan it adds significantly to my overall understanding.
Catrina Berka
Oct 30, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoy the way Crossan approaches biblical issues but this book was DEEP and I don’t have the right scuba certifications to join him. The summary of the book’s analysis is essentially, “love and justice MUST go hand-in-hand.” I can get on board with that message but feel like I had to slog through a lot of deep theological analysis to get there.
John Martindale
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really like the thesis of the book, seeing within the text of Scripture the assertion (of the good and beautiful) and then the subversion (the return to the negative aspects of civilization) again and again all throughout scripture. In the New Testament what is given with one hand is taken back with the other. Jesus' God is presented as non-judgmental, merciful, unconditionally loving, healing, forgiving and inclusive. The kingdom will come nonviolently, like a seed, through enemy love, servin ...more
Cathryn Conroy
Mar 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Violence. Vengeance. Viciousness. Randomly open a Bible, and chances are you'll find this and more on any given page. But there is also love, forgiveness, and supreme understanding. What a dichotomy!

It doesn't take a very close reading of the Bible to realize that God is both violent and nonviolent, and the same goes for Jesus. God got so angry at humanity that he killed everyone—save for Noah and his family—in a great flood. We think of Jesus Christ as embracing nonviolence with the Sermon on t
May 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I read little bits of this book each morning while I had coffee. I couldn't read more than a few pages at a time because I had to really think about what was written. I found the book engrossing and educational and exactly what I had hoped to learn about, but at the same time, some of it was academic -- or theological -- in language so that I often had to reread a page several times. Not because I didn't understand the language/words, but because ... well, okay, fine, maybe I'm a bit slow, but I ...more
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Ruth Board
Sep 10, 2018 marked it as to-read
Shelves: want-to-read
Crossan's book is an exemplary example of the scholarship for which he is so well known. The first and last parts of the book provide clear explanations of his thesis of the significance of the historical Jesus to an understanding of the Bible. Much of the main body of the work imparts the extensive research which underlies his discussion of distributive justice as distinct from retributive justice, the radical nature of nonviolent resistance versus the normalcy of violent oppression, and assert ...more
Jessie Heckenmueller
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: faith-doubt
Crossan is clearly a brilliant guy. The book was challenging to read; however, that was often not a bad thing as it required me to more fully dive into the material. He is sometimes sassy which always made me chuckle and created some comic relief. The summaries at the end of his chapters were immensely helpful to maintain the flow. I was surprised he did not cite more of his sources but assume it is because much of what he talks about is simply head knowledge for him. I read this group with a gr ...more
Joe Henry
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Matrix" is a big word with Crossan. He says you have to read and understand the Biblical material against the political and cultural background against which it is written. That's the matrix. That's not a new idea, of course, but he does such a good job of showing how that works from earliest material to the most recent--and not just 1st century CE.

The other major idea is the radical God being normalized to the culture. For example:
Distributive justice is proclaimed by the radical God, but it i
Pearl Loewen
Oct 19, 2019 rated it liked it
I have always enjoyed Crossan's scholarship and clear style of writing that never leaves you guessing where he has come from and going in developing his thesis. I have long held to the notion that biblical violence was culturally conditioned, including a violent God that was a projection of a people's violence in their time and place, and how their surrounding cultures portrayed their own rulers and gods. Crossan expands this at great length, a little too much in depth for me, but the provocativ ...more
Margie Dorn
Dec 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is Crossan at his best. His conclusion that "Justice is the body of love, and love is the soul of justice. Separate them and you do not get both— you get neither; you get a moral corpse. Justice is the flesh of love, and love is the spirit of justice." (p. 245) is derived from a journey through biblical scriptures via the matrix, metaphor and meaning of both the past and present. In other of his writings I've had distinct problems with certain lapses in research and rhetoric that did n ...more
Eva  Winter
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thought provoking, but not for the average evangelical Christian

I liked the book a lot because I came across it at the right time in my spiritual journey. I especially liked his distinction between distributive and retaliatory justice, and how the radicality of God has been subverted, time and again, into the normalcy of civilization, and that on the very pages of the Bible. But I would imagine that those readers who hold to a literal, verbal inspiration of the Bible in its entirety, will not ge
What a mouthful of a title, huh? In my experience, those who grow up practicing Catholicism express the grandeur and drama of the Church in other ways. Maybe when you try to cover it up, it seeps out through another crack, like a leaky pot. ANYWAY…

In hindsight, it might have helped if I had read Crossan’s earlier books before going on to this one. I’ve been meaning to read his The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant and Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, but I saw that th
Jan 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
You better like circular arguments

I usually like Crossan's writing because of the heavy historical influences. But this relied heavily on overly repetitive circular arguments. It made for a very long and boring read. To summarize, which the author chooses to take liberties with far too often, it was meh.
Margaret Kantz
Jan 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A powerful guide to sorting through conflicting messages about the nature of God without "cherry picking" and just discarding the parts I find uncomfortable. I can finally breathe and read the Bible at the same time. I can find and keep the Good News without having to choke on all the violence and dehumanization of others. ...more
Richard Worden
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author's classical background is very important for this study. Dr. Crossan's knowledge of the Roman world, ancient history, the Bible, poetry, and ancient non-Christian literature illuminate the thesis of the book: "How to Read the Bible". The plea to view the material under study with fresh eyes brings amazing results such as Dr. Crossan's analysis of the Book of Revelation. ...more
B Dohle
Feb 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
What an excellent upper view of scripture. If you're wondering how does scripture fit together, this book is for you. Just a warning... you may need to use a dictionary for some of his words. It is written with theologians in mind. But it is priceless to put the historical Jesus together with the Christ of Recelation and sadly sometimes the church. ...more
Apr 27, 2018 rated it did not like it
too much theology ,he made the seem like you need phd to understand it
Fred Heeren
May 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good reasons from a historical understanding to be people of the Person (Jesus), not just people of the book.
Aug 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Always fascinating and challenging, Crossan stimulates deep thinking and feeling about Christianity and its place in both the individual and in the world.
Maria Siracuse
Oct 15, 2019 marked it as couldn-t-finish
Just too heavy for me.could not finish it
Dec 27, 2019 added it
Shelves: dnf
i just need to get this thing off my "currently reading" but i never actually finished it cause i don't have the attention span for it ffffff ...more
Bethany Morgan
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.9 stars to 4
Андрій Сабініч
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A good analysis of historical Jesus and Christological problems in terms of Biblical inerrancy theory.
Bob Buice
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone interested in theology
Recommended to Bob by: Online - FaceBook
John Dominic Crossan, a former Catholic priest, is an Irish-American New Testament scholar, and historian of early Christianity. He had authored both scholarly and popular works. His recent “How to Read the Bible and Still Be a Christian” is another impressive scholarly writing.

Crossan’s model describing the dynamics of the Christian Bible is highly though-provoking – The Radicality of God vs the Normalicy of Civilization – Nonviolent Power of Persuasion vs Violent Power of Force – Distributive
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John Dominic Crossan is generally regarded as the leading historical Jesus scholar in the world. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Historical Jesus, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, The Birth of Christianity, and Who Killed Jesus? He lives in Clermont, Florida.

John Dominic Crossan was born in Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland in 1934. He was educated in Ireland and the

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“sadly, the book of Job was but a speed bump on the Deuteronomic superhighway. The delusion of divine punishments still prevails inside and outside religion over the clear evidence of human consequences, random accidents, and natural disasters. This does not simply distort theology; it defames the very character of God.” 6 likes
“Throughout the biblical story, from Genesis to Revelation, every radical challenge from the biblical God is both asserted and then subverted by its receiving communities— be they earliest Israelites or latest Christians. That pattern of assertion-and-subversion, that rhythm of expansion-and-contraction, is like the systole-and-diastole cycle of the human heart.

In other words, the heartbeat of the Christian Bible is a recurrent cardiac cycle in which the asserted radicality of God’s nonviolent distributive justice is subverted by the normalcy of civilization’s violent retributive justice. And, of course, the most profound annulment is that both assertion and subversion are attributed to the same God or the same Christ.

Think of this example. In the Bible, prophets are those who speak for God. On one hand, the prophets Isaiah and Micah agree on this as God’s vision: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, / and their spears into pruning hooks; / nation shall not lift up sword against nation, / neither shall they learn war any more” (Isa. 2:4 = Mic. 4:3). On the other hand, the prophet Joel suggests the opposite vision: “Beat your plowshares into swords, / and your pruning hooks into spears; / let the weakling say, ‘I am a warrior’” (3:10). Is this simply an example of assertion-and-subversion between prophets, or between God’s radicality and civilization’s normalcy?

That proposal might also answer how, as noted in Chapter 1, Jesus the Christ of the Sermon on the Mount preferred loving enemies and praying for persecutors while Jesus the Christ of the book of Revelation preferred killing enemies and slaughtering persecutors. It is not that Jesus the Christ changed his mind, but that in standard biblical assertion-and-subversion strategy, Christianity changed its Jesus.”
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