This is one of those books I stumbled upon one evening bored at a photo shoot with some buddies. Through a retweet, Derek Flood’s book Disarming Scripture showed up as a 99 cent deal. For less than a buck approaching an interesting topic, I was willing to bite. Little did I know, Flood would hook me in.
I know nothing about Flood beyond his bio, which reads, “Derek Flood is the author of Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice, and the Cross (Cascade, 2012), and is a featured blogger for the Huffington Post, Sojourners, and Red Letter Christians. He holds a masters degree in systematic theology from the Graduate Theological Union.” I hadn’t heard of his first book, but I’m bound to pick it up after reading this one.
Out from the gate, it’s clear that Flood considers himself progressive. Though he certainly has some critic for liberal interpretations of scripture, he’s definitely more critical of any conservative approach. I truly LOL’d when I came across the phrase, “liberal biblical scholarship or conservative apologetics.” Apparently only liberals get to claim true scholarship.
Flood lays out his claim well, what he calls a “trajectory approach,” essentially reading scripture as though God is working through people over time and forced to speak in a language they might understand. For God to speak to a tiny Hebrew nation in a violent era, God has to use violent language. Flood even seems to indicate that the writers of the Hebrew scriptures often used violent language to depict God despite God’s attempt to reveal himself as love.
As one who is moving further and further away from any desire for violence (I hate to call myself a pacifist, but I’m leaning that way), Flood’s book took me through a journey from the foundation of the Hebrew people through Jesus and into the new Christian people. Given that I absolutely love decisive issues explored biblically, it felt like Flood was writing specifically to me.
As Flood presented one argument after another, I found myself constantly thinking, “well, you haven’t addressed this or that.” Turn page, and there he begins to address it, and does so very well. I often found myself deleting my critical notes because he adequately explained his position. I eventually found myself holding back any critique to see how he’d pull off the immediate claim, and praised him as he did so.
Where Flood left me hanging, though, had to do with his approach. My own personal approach to conflicting messages in the Bible is to hold them in tension rather than choosing which I prefer (given how prevalent conflicting message appear, I’m constantly having to revise, reshuffle, and reshape my theology). Flood, though, seems to suggest we are quite free to leave behind the violent pieces, a bit ironic given his accusation that liberals cherry-pick the scripture they prefer (such as the aspects of love). The violent pieces are depicted as historical, cemented in a particular time and place, unnecessary for our understanding of God today except as referencing a starting point. It’s much like my birth certificate; it’s helpful for proving who I am to my bank, but it doesn’t adequately show who I am as a person to the world.
Nevertheless, Flood has done a phenomenal job of convincing me that the Hebrew people went through progressing periods of radically redefining their understanding of God. His analysis of the New Testament—particularly where Paul uses psalms originally intended as violent angst or prayers to display what Flood calls “enemy love”—opened my eyes to a new way of seeing scripture.
While I am still not completely sold (there are aspects to his theology that are missing, though to fill in those gaps would take volumes, not 294 pages), Flood’s theology boils down to this, perhaps the most critical paragraph of his entire book:
For Jesus, the correct interpretation of Scripture all comes down to how we love. The Bible was never intended to be our master, placing a burden on our back; it was intended to act as a servant, leading us to love God, others, and ourselves. When we read it in a way that leads to the opposite of this, we get it wrong. So when the religious leaders interpreted the law in a way that hindered people from finding healing and life, Jesus publicly opposed their hurtful interpretation. (66–67)
I strongly suggest you pick up a copy. The $.99 Kindle deal is now over, but it’s well worth the price, especially for someone like me, attempting to find a way to leave violent theology behind.