Last night, my church started its Bible study in Paul's Epistle to the Romans. We're going through the curriculum Romans: The Letter That Changed the World, with Mark De Haan and Jimmy DeYoung.
had nine people at Bible study last night, which was a lot for our
group. One person came because she saw the advertisement that my pastor
put in the newspaper. And another person learned about the Bible study
because of our church's lawn-sign.
I have two comments about last night's study.
The narrative that many in the group were accepting was that Paul was
really going against the grain when he preached the Gospel to the
Gentiles. Paul in Romans 1 was lambasting Gentiles for their idolatry
and their lack of ethics, and people in my group were thinking that, not
only would Paul's viewpoint be controversial in a world that was
heavily attached to idolatry, but it also would challenge the economic
interests that depended on idol-worship for a steady income.
I think that there's something to this narrative. Remember the story in Acts 19 about
the people in Ephesus who were upset that Paul was dissuading people
from worshiping idols, thereby was threatening their craft? At first,
however, I was a little skeptical about the narrative, and the reason
was that Gentile society tolerated Judaism, which, like Paul, was
staunchly monotheistic. Moreover, there were even Gentiles who were
attracted to Judaism because they thought that it coincided with their
own philosophical conception of the divine, and they believed that pagan
mythology was rather childish. I wondered: If Gentile society
tolerated, and in some cases embraced, Judaism, with its staunch
monotheism, then why would Paul's monotheism be controversial within
I think that the answer
could be that early Christianity was more of a threat to pagan society
than Judaism was, for Christianity was getting more converts, thereby
posing a greater challenge to idolatry.
The booklet said, "The danger, according to Paul, is that our Creator
cares enough to be angry when He sees those He loves being ruined by
gods that are not God and by worship that is worthless."
can understand why God would be angry at sin, especially when the
sinners are people God loves. But, if God loves sinners, why does God
kill them, as occurs so often in the Hebrew Bible? Why does God send
them to hell?
One person in the group,
whom I'll call Bob, questioned that God even gets angry. I appreciated
his outside-of-the-box outlook on the Bible, especially when someone
else in the group questioned him about God's wrath, God's justice, and
hell (and, believe it or not, it was a respectful exchange). Bob was
saying that Jesus died on the cross, not to appease God's anger, but for
our benefit----because God recognized that we deal with
emotions and feel guilty about what we've done wrong. On hell, Bob
stated that we don't know what happens after we die. And, after the
study, Bob was telling me that he believes that many parts of the Bible
are metaphorical and are not to be taken literally.
will be interesting to see how Bob interacts with the remainder of our
study. I don't entirely agree with what Bob said, but it was refreshing