A debut book presents a provocative reconsideration of the New Testament and institutionalized religion.
The Bible has always been the object of spirited debate, and those disputes have spawned nearly infinite sectarian divisions. Author and minister McCraney offers a radical solution to ceaseless contention—pare down the essential teachings of the New Testament to two simple truths: faith in Christ and the love of God and man. Whatever remains is reduced to “ancillary” status, inessential doctrine that can be embraced or denied within what the author calls “Subjective Christianity.” This interpretive pruning is defensible, McCraney avers, because no fully objective, contemporarily relevant reading is possible. Each teaching in the Bible, while inspired by God, has to be understood in light of the limited historical and geographical horizon of its purveyors, addressed to specific groups for very particular reasons that may have little or nothing to do with modern circumstances. The consequence of this approach is that the Bible becomes less a catalog of laws than a general blueprint or a “wonderful map.” Additionally, because institutional denominations are the result of dogmatic appropriations of biblical text, these should largely be surrendered in favor of what Protestants call the “universal priesthood of all believers”: “If there is ‘a priesthood of all believers’ let there be ‘a priesthood of all believers’—which means among believers there is absolutely no hierarchy or order or special privileges.” The emphasis on love itself cuts across all doctrinal chasms and liberates a purely spiritual church from bureaucratic restraints. McCraney’s discussion is as wide-ranging as it is unconventional—he discusses Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Protestantism in depth, and forwards a critique of atheistic hubris as well. There’s also a novel reinterpretation of the Book of Revelation, which should surely interest Evangelicals. The author’s scholarship is thorough and painstaking, but delightfully light on academic digressions, making this a very accessible work. Additionally, the entire study is infused with a spirit of open-minded skepticism, and refreshingly encourages readers to draw their own judgments. For either the theological novice or expert, this work remains an incisive invitation to rethink the significance of religious traditions and hierarchies.
A welcome and fresh contribution to biblical studies.