Review: Reading the Bible for All the Wrong Reasons

January 13th, 2012

Russell Pregeant, former lecturer in New Testament at Andover Newton Theological School, is Professor of Religion Emeritus and Chaplain at Curry College. He brings scholarship and a great sense of humor to Reading the Bible for All the Wrong Reasons (Fortress, 2011). On the one hand, it’s for people who want to pursue what the Bible says about such contemporary issues as divorce, evolution, same-sex relations, poverty, the role of women. On the other hand, Pregeant has a passion for addressing what he calls “Bible abuse.” By this he means both using biblical writings for inappropriate purposes as well as using the Bible as a tool of abuse to browbeat those with whom one disagrees.

A fantastic study/discussion book for youth, college-age, and adult groups, the heart of Pregeant’s work goes to helping people understand what the Bible is and is not. Chapter titles map the route: “Neither Fact Book nor Catechism,” “Neither Science nor Anti-Science,” “Neither Crystal Ball Nor Horror Show,” “Neither Rigid Rules Nor Billy Club.” This is an accessible book that tackles quite successfully some difficult concepts about biblical interpretation, varying biblical genres, and so forth. Pregeant unpacks time-honored formulas of exegesis and the ever-present nemeses of eisegesis in lively, evocative examples that will help both pastor and layperson wrestle more faithfully with the heart of the matter. His goal is to point towards the exciting adventure of reading the Scriptures in ways that that liberate, empower, and enliven.

Pregeant’s predilections are self-evident. He starts from the premise that the basic trajectory of God’s Word points to a new kingdom characterized by peace, justice, and addressing the lot of the poor. It’s not, then, a huge leap for him to posit that the Bible is not so much a guidebook for the individual as it is about individuality within community for the sake of the community—a rather timely message to be sure.

This book will be helpful to folks who have wrestled with inconsistencies in the Bible, with different versions of the same story. It will also be helpful to those who worry that there’s not a way to reconcile what they learn from a scientific point-of-view (such as evolution and homosexuality) with what they always thought the Bible taught about those topics.

Finally, though, this is not just a book about getting our thinking straight, however satisfying that is for those who value consistency and long for mental/spiritual integrity. This is a book about faithful discipleship and the demands of being a Christian in this world. Pregeant is clear that on the basis of the Biblical imperative, to be Christian is to be different. The biblical, Kingdom-valued society that Pregeant describes will challenge complacency and comfort levels and push the buttons of most all his readers. How is it that faithful, Bible-based Christians tolerate such high levels of poverty, he wonders? How do biblical principles inform us in engaging the rulers of this world? How do we engage in war as followers of the Prince of Peace?

Don’t let Pregeant’s humorous language fool you. You might not be as eager as you think to venture into the deep waters of scriptural immersion unless, on some level, you’re ready to “not be conformed to this world, but [to] be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2).


Read an excerpt of this book

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