Monday, January 9, 2012

Broken Words by Jonathan Dudley

“I learned a few things growing up as an evangelical Christian: that abortion is murder; homosexuality, sin; evolution, nonsense; and environmentalism, a farce.” Dudley explores those four ideas in this book. He is emotionally attached to the evangelical culture yet is intellectually turned off by much of it. His experience is as a seminary graduate and aspiring medical scientist.
He notes that many see beliefs on these issues as a litmus test for Christian faith. Evangelicals tend to think “we have the Truth,” yet many authors (like Mark Noll) have noted a poverty of evangelical thinking.
There are serious challenges to the evangelical opinions on these four subjects. Dudley proposes to demonstrate in this book that the four issues are weak points, weakly supported and justified by a flawed understanding of biblical interpretation.
I was surprised to find that the first laws in America allowed abortion right up to around the fifth month after conception. (40)
Dudley suggests, “There is ample room within the diverse interpretive practices of orthodox Christianity to justify an alternative approach to the Bible on gay marriages.” (89)
Dudley has an excellent review of the concepts of environmental stewardship, property, and Genesis 1:28.
He has a fine critique of creationism as a paradigm-relative interpretation of the Bible. He also traces the rise of the anti-evolution movement. He says, “Indeed, the case of intelligent design provides an example of the gap between lay evangelical opinion and scholarly evangelical opinion.” (141)
Dudley intersperses thoughts on biblical interpretation throughout the text. He has a good section on our presuppositions and how they influence our interpretation of Scripture. He explores the historical context of whether biblical interpretation must take into account our experience of the world around us. He writes, “The fact that the Bible's meaning is not simply lying in its pages waiting to be discovered, but rather, occurs at the intersection of scripture, theology, and culture, necessitates a change in the way evangelicals use and think about scripture.” (108) Biases and prior beliefs “are necessary for interpretation to occur at all.” (109) “Evangelicals should acknowledge that contemporary experiences are a legitimate guide to interpreting scripture...” (109)

This book is a must reading for anyone wanting to understand the backgrounds of these four issues identified above. It is a must for any Christian desiring to think carefully and critically about their beliefs. Conservative Christians may not agree with Dudley at every point but reading his work will help them understand more clearly all aspects of the issues.

Jonathan Dudley is a graduate of Calvin College and Yale Divinity School and is currently an MD student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Crown Publishers, 204 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author for the purpose of this review.
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