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Jolt of the parables  

by
01 July 2016

Naomi Starkey finds a presentation of key teachings unchurchy

The Upside-Down Bible: What Jesus really said about money, sex and violence

Symon Hill

DLT £9.99

(978-0-232-53207-4)

Church Times Bookshop £9

A CHALLENGE of preaching ministry — as well as devotional writing — is maintaining a sense of “fresh perspective” on Bible passages preached or written about many times before. Rather than simply provide another interpretative framework, this book presents the views of a range of individuals encountering the teaching of Jesus for the first time.

After introductory “How to use this book” and “Who is Jesus?” chapters, the format is straightforward: three sections (money; sex; violence); five Gospel passages per section; each passage followed by comments from people of varied — or no — faith background, and a brief reflection from the author, plus questions for discussion.

As stated in the opening pages, the book is not intended as a systematic introduction to Jesus’s ideas, but a chance to explore some of them open-endedly. It is also a chance to be jolted out of complacent exegesis by the perspective of, for example, a sex worker on Matthew 21.22-32, or an atheist economics journalist on Luke 19.12-27. I found the chapter on the Good Samaritan the most inspiring in the way it demonstrated how far the parable’s teaching extends beyond an easy interpretation of “Be nice to people.”

The book offers useful material for group Bible study by encouraging honest response and questioning instead of awaiting instruction in the “right answer”. It offers a stimulus to thoughtful and nuanced preaching by its reminder of how Christian teaching can sound peculiar, if not downright nonsensical, to those who, for whatever reason, place themselves as church outsiders. It could also prove a helpful resource in planning some kind of forum to engage with such “outsiders”, who may (as the book suggests) be just a little intrigued by the person of Jesus, while indifferent, if not hostile, to the institutional Church.

 

The Revd Naomi Starkey is Assistant Curate in the Ministry Area of Bro Enlli on the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales.

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