Stephen Harris' "Understanding the Bible"

One thing my wife and I both liked to do was torment our skeptical college professors who attacked Christianity. We'd both have a lot of that to do with Stephen Harris, who brings us every liberal theory under the sun in one neat package.

I found it hard to read this book, because I have little tolerance for people who bring only summary statements to the fore with qualifications like "most scholars say". Harris uses this phrase on nearly every page, often 2 or 3 times, and it is clear that in saying it he means "scholars I agree with" -- or else, that conservatives are not scholars.

In the bibliography you'll find a few conservative writers, but overwhelmingly, those listed are of the Jesus-Seminar persuasion and their views are treated as fact. The material presented is done so in highly summary fashion -- no topic is treated in depth, leading me to say constantly to Harris, "Come now, the issue is far more complex than that."

Granted, this is a textbook for college, and we should not expect it to cover every morsel; but neither should we expect it to pretend that the point of view it promotes is unquestionably the only sensible one.

On the other hand, it certainly is clear that Harris isn't into discussing points of view, at least not the standard way. A signal for this textbook is the illustrations. Whereas Bible textbooks of old featured maps and photos of the Holy Land or parts of the Roman Empire, most of the photos in this book are monuments to political correctness, a la Gregory Riley. Paintings or sculptures of Jesus depicting him or the Holy Family as Asian, Native American, native African, etc. would serve well in a textbook on religious art, but what is their purpose in a book about the Bible as history? Why a commentary on whether or not homosexuality is natural when looking at Paul's comments in Romans? Because ideology, not truth, is at the fore here.

In terms of the material, much of what is found in this book has been addressed by myself and others I link to. Harris seems willing to take on anything (including the pagan copycat thesis) that suits his fancy and condense it down for his young and impressionable readers. If you wonder why your teenagers leave home as solid Christians devoted to mission service and Sunday school, but come back from college as apostates, you need look no further than this summary work.

-JPH