By Tim Gee. Christian Alternative Books, 2022. 96 pages. $11.95/paperback; $9.99/eBook.
If you are a social activist who wonders if Christian nationalist rhetoric accurately represents the biblical message, then this slim book is for you. Tim Gee has an impressive CV working for progressive NGOs. Like many of today’s Progressives, he dismissed the Bible as outmoded and unhelpful. This began to change when he visited Palestine with the Bible as a travel book. To his surprise, he read that the four gospels were set in a “country under occupation, a movement resisting injustice and debating how best to do so . . . and a critique of war and inequality still applicable today.” Seven years later, he attended a meeting for worship in Philadelphia, Pa., and experienced “a loving force flowing through myself, through everyone in the room, then through everyone in the whole world.” His deepening understanding was shaped by a number of biblical scholars, religious thinkers, and spiritually motivated activists—helpfully included in “Notes and further reading” at the end.
Gee takes us briskly through the Bible as seen through an activist’s lens. First he offers some helpful background of what the Bible is—and isn’t. He has several useful analogies of how to sit with it. He repeatedly seeks the context for a story or parable: that is a key to its meaning. He offers the stories pretty much as they are told, then finds their radical meaning.
Gee is not a biblical scholar like John Dominic Crossan or Peterson Toscano who study the historical setting or the use of specific words to discover new interpretations of basic texts. But he draws on their work, as well as that of many others. Gee takes the stories pretty much at face value and finds a new way to understand their basic message.
Probably most readers of the Bible bring to it who we are, with our presuppositions and preferences. We tend to notice stories and passages that seem to support these ideas. Gee is no different. He reads the familiar stories and finds support for social justice: a God who is actively involved with fallible humans and a revolutionary from Nazareth leading an anti-colonial movement.
If most people bring their own ideas to find reinforcement in the Bible, relatively few allow the Bible to “read” them, to query their own motivations and actions. Gee invites the stories to search his own missteps, ambiguities, and fears as a social activist.
Does Gee go a bit overboard? Who is to say? There is no doubt in many minds that the message of Jesus was perverted and his movement co-opted by a patriarchal power system that aligned with the empire that Jesus had opposed. A strength of the Bible is its ambiguity, its openness to multiple interpretations, its myriad reflections on a God who cannot be encapsulated by human words and creeds. For those willing to read it with humility, and to allow it to “read” them, the Bible can be challenging and life-changing. Gee offers a good example of how this might work.
Marty Grundy, a member of Wellesley (Mass.) Meeting in New England Yearly Meeting, has delighted in exploring scholarship around the teachings of Jesus and the early Jesus movement.